How James Frey’s “IP Factory” is Re-imagining Book Packaging
By Rachel Aydt
The multi-media packaging business Full Fathom Five, the brainchild of James Frey — who until Lance Armstrong appears on TV today, was likely Oprah’s most famous confessor — has refined a business formula that marries talented writers, filmmakers, television producers, video game makers and toy designers, into one big collaborative “IP Factory.”
Frey explains that the formula isn’t as Draconian as it’s been made out to be in the press since the company’s inception. In the past, their work for hire contracts were publicly vilified, most extremely by a writer in New York Magazine in 2010 (who had a project in the works with Full Fathom that went sour). The article claimed that Frey’s company was a “Fiction Factory” employing hungry young talent, plucked straight from enviable MFA programs, at the pay rate of (wait for it) $250 per book. “The fact that we work exclusively with graduate students is a myth,” says Frey. “It’s not true. We work with New York Times bestselling writers as well as talented up and comers.” Contractually their pay scale isn’t standardized, he explains — nor could it be — because their products are spread so far across the multimedia map, not just in terms of medium, but also in terms of audience.
“Many book packagers focus on one demographic, like Alloy, who makes books and products exclusively for teenaged girls,” he says. Alloy, of course, is the force behind the adolescent girl phenoms Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants franchises. “And I have a lot of admiration for what they’ve done. We’ve done some things for that age group, but I like to think that we’re ‘demographic agnostic.’ We’re not working with a specific demographic. If we have a great idea for a new population, we’ll try it out.” The collaborative piece of his business lies in deciding how to best roll out an idea. “If there’s a great idea, our job is to figure out what to do with it.”